February 27, 1979 [The Deer Hunter]

The Wise Man in Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi” tells us right away
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
--And the late-winter wind rushes along the house, The Deer Hunter refusing to leave, De Niro’s eyes wide as he tries to find a way out, the one-shot man insisting, “This is this”--but how could he know that Nicky would leave them, his own eyes seeing something a thousand yards away: a bullet, like the one in the Weber opera, like the old folk tale, magical--no, cursed--veering and circling, the enemy unscathed, the young men dead or broken.

The final scene, the survivors singing “God Bless America”--but John Cazale, whose character stayed at home with his own little gun, did not survive: he’s gone already, the last victim of the ‘70s, this Little Decade That Couldn’t--that final scene will be much discussed, much maligned. But I cried, free at last of false hopes and fears. Who am I to lay on them anything more? The least I can do is leave them alone, let them mourn. I don’t want anything from them, and have little to give myself. They loved each other while the old world, in “the very dead of winter,” passed beneath their hurrying, lost feet. The movie’s horrors are also much discussed, much maligned. But again: Such stuff is what it is: “This is this.” And that is not merely convenient ambiguity, but the lesson of the circuitous journey of that cursed bullet, finding its own mark, no matter which way the gun points.


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